We aren’t quite to the halfway point of Gov. Mike Pence’s term, but he’s now through his second Indiana General Assembly session and this week signed into law the state’s first pre-kindergarten program, cut the corporate tax, and provided $200 million more in road funding.
Pence’s emphasis has been on tax cuts and education, with modest achievements
First, some historical perspective. In 1973, Republican Gov. Doc Bowen forged property tax reforms during his initial session, then found himself in the midst of a Middle Eastern induced energy crisis in the second. Republican Gov. Robert Orr, like Bowen, had Republican majorities, but had to deal with the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and almost as bad as the Great Recession of 2009-10. Orr was forced to call a special session in 1982 after the steel industry cratered, forging a big tax increase to keep the schools open.
Democrat Govs. Evan Bayh and Frank O’Bannon had to deal with hostile Republican Senates and 50/50 split Houses. Bayh had presidential aspirations and tended to play policy through that lens. O’Bannon found himself grappling with the state taxation system after the courts struck it down.
Then came Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels who had epic achievements in his first short session with a Republican Senate and a small House majority. He forged Major Moves that turned a $3.8 billion lease of the Indiana Toll Road into the I-69 extension to Evansville, the Hoosier Heartland and U.S. 31 freeways, and new Ohio River bridges. The 2006 session also reformed telecommunications, which launched a multi-billion upgrade that pushed Internet and better phone service into rural communities.
Pence had - in theory - the strongest hand of them all with super Republican majorities in both chambers. But his anemic 2 percent win over Democrat John Gregg in 2012 with only 49 percent of the vote essentially weakened his mojo in the Statehouse where power from the districts translates into clout in the hallways. House Republicans forged a 69-seat majority as Pence limped in, with many members running well ahead of him in their districts.